Measuring resilience and assessing vulnerability of terrestrial ecosystems to climate change in South America
AbstractClimate change has been identified as the primary threat to the integrity and functioning of ecosystems in this century, although there is still much uncertainty about its effects and the degree of vulnerability for different ecosystems to this threat. Here we propose a new methodological approach capable of measuring and mapping the resilience of terrestrial ecosystems at large scales based on their climatic niche. To do this, we used high spatial resolution remote sensing data and ecological niche modeling techniques to calculate and spatialize the resilience of three stable states of ecosystems in South America: forest, savanna, and grassland. Also, we evaluated the sensitivity of ecosystems to climate stress, the likelihood of exposure to non-analogous climatic conditions, and their respective adaptive capacities in the face of climate change. Our results indicate that forests, the most productive and biodiverse terrestrial ecosystems on the earth, are more vulnerable to climate change than savannas or grasslands. Forests showed less resistance to climate stress and a higher chance of exposure to non-analogous climatic conditions. If this scenario occurs, the forest ecosystems would have less chance of adaptation compared to savannas or grasslands because of their narrow climate niche. Therefore, we can conclude that a possible consolidation of non-analogous climatic conditions would lead to a loss of resilience in the forest ecosystem, significantly increasing the chance of a critical transition event to another stable state with a lower density of vegetation cover (e.g., savanna or grassland).